Hola! I’m Sam Lansky, and you’re reading “Pop Think,“ my weekly column devoted to exploring the under-explored phenomena of the pop music scene. This week, I’m takin’ y’all on a trip around the world. Brazil! Morocco! London to Ibiza! That’s right: We’re talkin’ ’bout the inimitable miss Jennifer Lopez, who is back on the charts with her monster new single, “Dance Again,” and is experiencing a career peak not seen since the early millennium.
See, J. Lo has been a tabloid fixture for years (would I date myself by referencing the late, great “Bennifer”?), and the media mogul’s empire goes beyond just music to include film, television, fashion and a litany of other ventures — and although music has always been a mainstay of her success (hi, she’s sold 55 million records worldwide), her influence dwindled in the latter part of the last decade. But with the massive success of “On The Floor” and her judging spot on “American Idol,” J. Lo has catapulted herself back to the top. That’s a tricky feat in the fickle pop charts and one deserving of some recognition.
Party people everywhere are getting buck wild on the floor to Jennifer’s high-quality tunage — and this week, I’m exploring how Jennifer has ushered in this epic professional renaissance. Y’all ready to dance again? Let’s do it.
Ladies and gentlemen: The one and only Jennifer Lopez.
At the tender age of 42, Jennifer Lopez has enjoyed a career that most recording artists would envy. Her debut single, 1999′s “If You Had My Love” (which remains one of my favorite pop songs ev-ah), was a global No. 1 hit that catapulted her and her first album, On the 6, into pop’s A-list. Her second album, J. Lo, redefined her image with some tougher urban swag, and singles such as “Ain’t It Funny” and “I’m Real” (which saw her collaborating with Ja Rule) also topped the charts. Her third album, This Is Me… Then, featured what may have become her most iconic single — “Jenny From the Block,” obvs — as well as the icy-cool LL Cool J-featuring “All I Have.” But as her tabloid visibility skyrocketed, her grip over the world of music weakened. Her next album, Rebirth, featured no singles that cracked the Top 10 for the first time in her career, and the 2008 follow-up, Brave, was an undeniable flop. When her 2009 single “Louboutins” was released, the initial reaction was so excoriating that the release was canceled altogether.
What went wrong? My theory is that, after a decade of riding trends as smartly and savvily as anyone in the game, J. Lo’s timing just wasn’t quite on point. While artists such as Lady Gaga began delivering slick, European-influenced dance-pop around 2008, J. Lo was still stuck on the urban-pop bandwagon born from the sound that had dominated the last decade. Her releases coincided with shifting sonic trends on the charts, and she still had one foot in the past.
Read more about J. Lo’s Love? comeback after the jump.
So what’s a brilliant music mogul like J. Lo to do? A high-profile judging gig on “American Idol” primed her for a return to the spotlight, and then she dropped one of the biggest singles of her career: 2011′s “On the Floor” (off of her latest album Love?), produced by none other than RedOne, the Swedish-Moroccan producer extraordinaire responsible for the blasting house-pop that became Lady Gaga’s signature sound. “On the Floor” is an undeniably genius dance-pop confection. By collaborating with Pitbull on the track, she kept it tight with her Latino family — a component that’s always been a central piece of J. Lo’s brand and identity — and didn’t entirely betray her urban-pop roots. But the song’s slick, club-friendly production and impossibly sexy video made her relevant to, quite literally, a new generation of party people, topping charts around the world. Now, her newest single, “Dance Again,” sees Jennifer teaming up with those same top-shelf collaborators (Pitbull and RedOne) for a song that’s a variation on the same theme: a big dance-pop number and a hot club video. Again, she did the smartest thing she could do by staying close enough to her core fanbase and injecting the track with enough Latino flavor to keep everyone engaged. But she courted everyone along the way — casual radio listeners, dance music-loving gays and an urban market who already adores her.
I couldn’t help but notice when I went out dancing in Los Angeles the other night that the video for “Dance Again” was playing everywhere — I mean, on every video screen at every club where I went, and when the flawlessly hot Miss Lopez appeared on screen, everyone on the dance floor went berserk. Considering how sleepy the clips for even the most blazing dancefloor bangers can be, is it any surprise that the electrifying vid for “Dance Again” — and Jennifer herself — have everyone’s attention?
Photo credit: Pacific Coast News